Ask Ray | Thoughts on Amazon’s plans to use drones for delivery

December 4, 2013 by Ray Kurzweil

(credit: Amazon)

Dear readers,

I am reviewing the recent news on Amazon’s interest in using unmanned drones to make product deliveries.

There is public discussion about the feasibility of this logistically, and some concerns about using drones in public due to privacy and other issues.

You can read some background on Amazon’s plans in this report by 60 Minutes:

CBS News | “Amazon unveils futuristic plan — Delivery by drone: Amazon’s secret R&D project aimed at delivering packages to your doorstep by octocopter mini-drones with a mere 30-minute delivery time”

Also below, the TV broadcast of the recent 60 Minutes interview, and Amazon footage of a recent test flight.

Here are few interesting points I’d like to share:

Technology has always been a double edged sword — fire kept us warm and cooked our food but also was used to burn down our villages. We already have pervasive security cameras not to mention ubiquitous phone cameras — these do make public spaces safer but can also invade our privacy at least in public spaces.

Similarly, drones will deliver packages and provide improved mapmaking  and monitoring of traffic, but will introduce similar privacy concerns.

I believe the answer to privacy concerns is to protect the privacy of private spaces.  I grew up in an era where the only way to speak to a friend was using a shared party line, which provided no privacy.  If you moved even a few miles you generally lost that friend.

There is a lot of commentary today that people are staring at their devices instead of interacting with the people in their midst.

But this perspective overlooks the fact that people are not just communicating with machines, but with other people.  It is much easier today to maintain relationships as well as maintain privacy than it was when I grew up.  We now have the opportunity to create communities based on common interests and passions rather than the accident of geographic proximity.  Drones will provide the opportunity to share physical things with those we care about.


A recent test flight video from Amazon:

60 Minutes interview:

related reading:
Amazon | Amazon Prime Air
KurzweilAI | “Amazon hopes to deliver packages via drones within 5 years
The Verge | “Congress members push privacy bills in response to Amazon delivery drones
Associated Press | “Amazon’s delivery drones an idea that may not fly
USA Today“Drone delivery dilemma: What people are saying about Jeff Bezos’ idea for a new delivery system”
The Huffington Post | “Drone delivery could revolutionize agriculture, farmers say”

About Amazon Prime Air

Amazon | We’re excited to share Prime Air — something the team has been working on in our next generation R&D lab. The goal of this new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles. Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations.

Amazon FAQ:

Q: Is this science fiction or is this real?
A: It looks like science fiction, but it’s real. From a technology point of view, we’ll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is actively working on rules for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Q: One day we’ll see a fleet of Prime Air vehicles in the sky?
A: Yes. One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.

Q: When will I be able to choose Prime Air as a delivery option?
A: We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time.

Q: How are you going to ensure public safety?
A: The FAA is actively working on rules and an approach for unmanned aerial vehicles that will prioritize public safety. Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards.